Vive La Difference! But….we have more in common than that divides us

Vive La Difference….but, we have far more in common than that divides us

100 years ago, the guns silenced, marking the end of the First World War. Today, in a sleepy little village in South West Rural France about 150 people from various countries marked that occasion in a manner not dissimilar to other events held elsewhere in Europe.Memorial procession

Confusingly for me, although the church bells rang out #ATouteVolee at 1100the chatter did not stop, and the hustle and bustle of the Autumn Fayre continued. As Martin and I walked up the high street he persisted in talking about something until I snapped “are you NOT going to observe a minute’s silence?”. He hadn’t realised it was 1100. We both noted that it was strange, but we figured the silence would take place at the start of the memorial event at 1130. But it did bother me….all my life I have stopped and taken that minute’s silence at 1100. So, I asked people “why not silence at 1100” and the answer was simply that, typically in France the memorial services are at 1100 but here in rural South West France there are other events going on so people are needed at more than one event, so the events are sometimes staggered. Notably, the Bastille Celebrations that should be on 14th July take place in Villefranche du Perigord on 13th July so as to not compete with the larger, neighbouring events.

Ah, so that answered my nagging question. Another difference was the lack of poppies, which of course are a Royal British Legion thing -intended to raise money for that particular cause. So the poppies were few and far between, and none to be sold in the preceding weeks of course. I did spot a few blue poppy shape stickers, which on research afterwards I realised are Bleuet de France – the French version of Poppies.Bleuet de France

I still wore my perpetual bling crystal poppy brooch that I bought years ago – considering at the time that the cost of this would be my donation to the RBL for many, many years, but now actually in hindsight it is a good thing to have so I can mark 11th November in the way that I like to.

The memorial service was lovely – all in French of course, and I listened intently to see if I could pick up more of what was said that I had been able to during the one in May….a little bit more I think. Most poignant was the reading of the names of “Nos Morts” by a couple of young children – who proudly read aloud the names of those who had given their lives in the 1st and 2nd World Wars. I had a few tears with the emotion of it – just as I always have done on previous occasions. We are always reminded of the sacrifices made – no matter where we are in the world – on days like this.Nos Morts

After the main service we went over to “La Salle de Reunion” where the choir sang a song in French – it may have been a popular song – I do not know, it was not familiar, but it was lovely to listen to. Then the choir sang the British National Anthem – which made me stand tall and proud and I sang, albeit very quietly and awkwardly under my breath, feeling a bit out of place. Then, this was followed by La Marseillaise – the French National Anthem which then made me feel a little embarrassed that I do not know as single word of this iconic song!! So, I vowed to learn it by the next memorial event. In saying this to my friend who is in the choir, a conversation then arose by the end of which I had agreed to give the choir a go!! Oh dear – what have they let themselves in for? Still, this will be a good opportunity to learn some French, and integrate with some new people which is so important in such a small community.

What really struck me with this event is that there was maybe 150 people there – which represents quite a significant proportion of the local population. All those people turning out to show respect to the people who laid down their lives so we could stand here today. By comparison, the last Armistice Day I attended was in 2016, in Southampton – a huge city with a population of 254,000, and yet there were only about 20 people turned out at 1100 to stand in the rain and mark their respects. Admittedly, that was during a week day and not all employers would allow staff to just take their tea break outside – but at the time I was a bit of a rebel and just done my own thing anyway!!

I may have been feeling a particular need to show respect that year as it was the year that I finally went to visit the grave of my Great Grandad Hubert Doe in his final resting place at Cabaret Rouge Cemetery near Arras. His death in the 1st World War was what I now believe to be the trigger point for a whole load of weird family dynamics that subsequently occurred in our family. His death broke my Great Nan Louisa’s heart, and of course my Nan Winifred lost her dad as a young girl. Louisa then went on to marry a friend of his – Alfred Coggin. He had lots of issues from the war – probably shell shock, and became a not-so-nice step dad to Winifred and then later a dad to Stanley. We don’t think that he was much missed after he died in the 1930’s. Then Stanley grew up and joined the Royal Air Force and within a few flights was lost on a bombing raid to Mannheim May 19th 1942. StanleyThe loss of first Hubert, then Alfred and then Stanley to Louisa and Winifred caused them to view boys as more precious than girls, which then in turn led to my own mum Patricia feeling less important than her brother as they grew up. Then even me as I grew up wondering why my brother could get away with so much more than I could. Of course, back in those days with the great British stiff upper lip, neither my Great Nan, or my Nan spoke about feelings which would have meant that all this strange stuff was never interpreted for what it was, just feelings of inadequacy were felt with no associated rationale. It’s only in recent years when me and Martin with our curiosity in war time history and my need to unpick and understand every complex reasoning behind behaviour, that we have perhaps unravelled the root cause of our own rich tapestry of crazy family life! We also came across this very poignant audio clip  when digging up wartime history – it’s the sound of the bomber that Great Uncle Stanley made his last flight in – leaving the UK. It’s hard to not wonder what our family would have been like had that plane not been shot down that night. But we ALL have this shared history – every single one of us has someone in our past who was affected by those wars – and that has shaped who we are – whether for good or bad, and whether we like it or not.

It’s things like this that make me truly believe that we should not live our lives from behind a filter and we should open up and share our vulnerabilities and ask for help when needed – after all we are all human, and surely none of us sail through life without any assistance at all – even if that help is just the occasional wind behind our sails – encouraging us to continue forward – or maybe choose another course.

And that’s why I found myself doing something that I rarely do these days – sticking up for someone I don’t even know in real life on Facebook. This lady blogs about life as a mum, but unlike some of the perfect air-brushed yummy mummy bloggers, she tells it how it really is. And one of her posts had been a hilarious account of how she tried to get her boobs to fit in to a backless bra. A very unkind other mummy had really had a go at her for doing this, and in reading the resulting onslaught I felt compelled to express my own opinion which was quite simply “she is writing about HER life! And if you don’t like it then unfollow her blog, don’t read it”. And that is exactly how I feel. We all only have one life, and the way we life it will determine lots of things, including our own happiness, and if people don’t like us for living our “real, unfiltered life” what should we do? Pretend that our life is different, and more appealing to the people who don’t like us for our “real life”. Or, find people that do like us for living our own “real, unfiltered life”. For me it’s got to be the latter – I would get totally exhausted if I were to be living two life’s – it’s hard enough living one. And the people that like the way I live my life will enjoy being with me and want to spend time with me, and the people that don’t like it will drift away from my life. But, my life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – will be lived – true to myself, real, and unfiltered. ( if you fancy following her she is blogging on Facebook as – Knee Deep in Life )

So, our new life in France is sometimes challenging, and sometimes in finding our way we express frustrations, and I suppose sometimes that might seem as if we might prefer to be living our old lives in the UK. But, that’s not the case – we love our lives in France – we love the simplicity of life – although sometimes it is that simplicity that drives us crazy, we love the natural beauty of the countryside – although the extremes of weather that allow that beauty are sometimes worth grumbling about in a typically British fashion, and we love the slow little village that we have chosen as home, that gets so sleepy in Winter that we have to resort to playing scrabble!! And the people that are all co-existing around us – many of them have been on the same journey, some of them are still wondering why they made that jump across the channel 11 years ago, some will feel that their lives are now truly French, and some will be one foot in the tunnel ready to hop back if Brexit hits the fan.

All of us humans are unique, but as the late, great Jo Cox (murdered MP) once said – “We have far more in common than that divides us” so I think we owe it to each other to embrace our differences and allow each other to be ourselves.

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Don’t mess with my TouTou

Don’t mess with my toutou

Wow! Time flies when you are having fun!!

We had a good trip back to the UK which was very productive. We purchased a trailer to come on the back of the motorhome and filled it with a number of very exciting purchases. Best of all for me, is a complete set of Les Mills weights, bench and resistance bands – AND a shed to put it all in! Yes!! I am going to have an outdoors gym studio!!

Les Mills equipment

Everyone who comes to France has at least one thing that they really miss from their home country. In my case it is the gym!! For the past few years my entire life has been centred around going to the gym, and I used to work my calendar appointments around the times of my favourite classes – which were Body Pump and Zumba Strong. I’ve been grumbling ever since moving to France that I was missing the hard core, cardio workout that these classes gave me. And of course, the social contact that going to the gym gave me. Four days a week I would do back on back classes with my friends – fondly referred to as the Crew at Studio 2 (at least that was until the gym got knocked down, re-built and our Studio was then Studio 4 – but that’s another story).

People we have met who have lived around here for some time laughed when I said there is no way to exercise!! “Look at the hills” – “Get out there running, or on your bike”. Of course, I did start a bit of running, and hill walking with a couple of English girls – but very quickly into this I hurt my foot which slowed me down, and then with my knee injury it became apparent that hill running and fast walking would be off the menu for me, for some time.

That was a cruel blow indeed!! As well as the endorphin buzz from the cardio, I was going to also lose part of my social network. So, long story short – my lovely hubby Martin has treated me to an early birthday/Christmas present….and I’m working on some friends who will walk at a slower pace!!

Our trip back to the UK was mainly to settle Sian into University, and after moving her in we went off to visit family for a few days – including to visit Evan’s grave slightly early for what would have been his 16th birthday. Not brave enough to have a tattoo in France (with my French skills it could have proved disastrous) I had waited to come back to the UK to have the butterfly tattoo that I had wanted to have as an “in memory” tattoo.

Tattoo

The butterfly forms part of the picture which is on his grave stone. The tattooist was amused at my request to have “Tardis Blue – it must be Tardis Blue” but upon hearing the reason why he was very obliging and spent a while mixing a few different blue inks together. You see….Evan has gone off to travel the Universe with Doctor Who in his very own Tardis (the casket) so that part of it was vital (to me at least). I think Evan would have loved that his Auntie is a bit of a rebel and had a tattoo!!

 

 

So, after this we headed back to the New Forest so I could pop over to see both of my kids in Bournemouth and satisfy myself that Sian was happy and settled in her halls before heading back to France. We stayed at a campsite in Sway, so I could catch the train in to visit them as the trailer meant using the motorhome would be out of the question. On the train I mused as I went through Pokesdown Station – “I wonder if I am the only one who thinks of Pikachu when I see that”. I messaged the kids that question “no said Sian – but I will do now”. I think I was becoming obsessed with the Pokemon due to the trailer which now at least in my head was a dead ringer for Pikachu.

I’d told Sian that it would be just me visiting her and Ryan – no Martin, and even more disappointingly “NO DOGGOS”. But I had a cunning plan up my sleeve, and an hour after I caught the train Martin was to follow me on the next train – with the Doggos. We would come out of the pub after eating our breakfast and…….SURPRISE!!  Watch here for Doggos surprise Sian

 

It was lovely to see Sian squeal like a 6 year old with excitement at seeing them. Well worth the military operation involved to do it (which included an accidental missed train on Martin’s part).

Sian refused us admission to her room – so I can only assume one of two things a) She has properly settled in and the room is a bomb site – just like home or b) She had a fun night and there was a strange person in her bed.

Either way, she seemed happy enough, so the trailer, complete with it’s fetching yellow cover with the cute little ears that really remind me of Pikachu from the Pokeman that my kids were so fond of – made it’s maiden voyage back to France stuffed full to the brim of my own “Studio 2” and lots of other “can’t life without items”.

Pokeman Trailer
Don’t worry – it hasn’t really been painted up like this. Clever Ryan done a bit of doctoring!! Can you imagine this around VduP?

Talking of doggos…..another mystery was solved recently. For ages I had thought that the little dog belonging to lovely Beatrice at the camp site was called TouTou. The reason for this was that the water bowl at the bar has written on it “TouTou’s Bar”. Toutou's Bar

But then, when we visited Monpazier, a lady made a big fuss of the Doggos, stroking them and saying “TouTou”. We realised then that something was a bit different to what we had thought. Using good old Google Translate we found out that TouTou actually means Doggie in French.

So, this week, back home in Villefranche when we popped up to do some washing at the campsite I told Beatrice the story. She laughed, and we chatted about her dog’s real name and why she is called this. She is called Bendy – and the reason for it is Beatrice needed a name beginning with B. Why? Because the French tend to give their dogs a name beginning with the letter that corresponds to the year they were born. This helps the vets know the age of the dog. So Bendy is 13 years old…meaning that there are lots of dogs aged 13 in France with names beginning with B. Beatrice used to work in printing and Bendy is the name of a technical piece of printing equipment – hence the name.

I told Beatrice the reasoning behind our doggos names – Luka as he was originally called Loot (his owner bought him and his brother in the London riots and called them Loot and Robbery), and I wasn’t keen on that so looked for a similar name that would not confuse him. The song My Name is Luka by Suzanne Vega is a favourite and really resonates with me in relation to that gentle, oh so sensitive little doggie soul that Luka is, so that is where that came from. And Lillie is short for Princess Lillipops – much less provocative than her kennel name of “Fait Accomplais” referring to the inevitability of the Brexit vote which was all going on at the time (her sister is actually called Brexit, and another is called Dirty Blond after Boris Johnson).

But now, all I can think of whenever I see that dog bowl is that silly 80’s song – Don’t mess with my Toot Toot  – I wonder if anyone messes with the toutou called Brexit???

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

We ‘Mite’ be Buggered

We ‘Mite be Buggered’

The week before last we had a bit of respite from suffocating in the heat in the motorhome (and being on top of each other getting grumpy) because we went to Beaumont-du-Perigord for a house sitting assignment. The English homeowners got to go back to the UK for a few days and we got to use their lovely Perigordian house and all it’s facilities, and look after their menagerie of animeaux. They have Woody, a Rottweiler crossed with German Shepherd Dog, Belle, a Black Labrador, a goat called Victoria and 3 hens and a rooster!!

Collage of animal antics
Belle and Wood do not understand the concept of “human only” furniture and Victoria enjoys a round of parcour

Our dogs came too and the 4 of them got on brilliantly which was fantastic as it meant we could go on a drama free 5km walk each morning on a lovely circuit which took us up a steep hill, pass a lavabo (that translates to bathroom sink but it’s actually a dog dip), and round past some lovely fields of baby sunflowers and rural houses. Each walk gave us new and fresh ideas for our own house plans.

The animals had come with written and verbal instructions and I had remembered the house owner telling me that they were not allowed on the sofas. I hadn’t remembered though that she had said they were allowed on their own sofa. So, imagine the looks of disgust on Woody and Belle’s faces when I walked in to the living room – saw them on the small sofa and said in the firm dog owner voice “are you allowed to be up there”? Looks of guilt appeared on their little faces. “Get down off there”. Looks of confusion on their little faces. Then “come on – down now”. They both jumped down and huffed into a heap on the floor together. That made me think I should check – so I sent a message – oh dear!! Yes, they are allowed on that sofa!! So, back in the living room “apparently you are allowed on there Woody and Belle so you can get back up”. Bemused looks from the two doggos but up they did jump – although they did give me some sideways glances at times over the next few days as if to check out the new “rules” that had been instated.

We had a lovely few days in the area and bonded with all the animals. I particularly loved Woody, and I think Luka was getting a bit jealous and fearful for his place as my “top dog”. I also adored looking after Victoria and loved her funny little face when I hand fed her toast (she kind of pouts and clicks her tongue).

Also, of great novelty value to us was to be able to use an oven without roasting ourselves too – so I made veggie lasagne, and moussaka in the Le Creuset pots in the range cooker – and dreamed of a time not too far away when I can do this in my own kitchen.

Veggie mousakka
Yummy! And topped with English cheddar cheese which was a gift from the house owners!!

We also visited an English carpenter who is working on a timber framed house in the local area, and it was really helpful to see the infrastructure in this half-finished state to get a clearer picture of how it all works. We are definitely moving away from the brick-built concept back to our original thoughts of timber framed, although I now realise that you can have timber frame with different finishes outside – for example rendered, so if we want to move away from the wooden cabin look we can. At the moment we are undecided.

We have also met with a French company who specialised in timber framed kit houses this week – English guys but have been established in France for 8 years – and this is a promising proposition which we are going to explore in more detail.

One of the nicest things about house sitting was the respite from the constant itch/scratch cycle that I have been plagued with for the past few weeks. Away from the land I noticed that I was not so itchy, but disappointingly when we returned the itching returned with a vengeance. Strangely all the bites on me were in the really awkward places of bra straps, and knicker lines – which puzzled me and so after a few days of suffering in silence I decided to research. I quite literally done a Google search of the words “insect bites on knicker line and bra straps” and came back with the horrific find that my symptoms matched those of harvest mite infestation. It’s common for dogs to also get this at the same time so Luka and Lillie were checked and yes indeed the poor little buggers have the tell-tale signs.

Harvest Mites
Totally grossed out that these things were in me – however, they are so more that the human eye cannot see them so that’s not so bad

It’s no surprise really when you think we are living in woodland – and harvest mites tend to live in the long grass at the edge of woodland. Well, we are chopping down the “edge of our woodland” on a daily basis. So, the darling little mites are becoming homeless and jumping on us all.

 

 

 

 

Lyme madness

 

So, a trip to the pharmacy and an amusing 3-way conversation between the pharmacy assistant, Mr Google and myself took place. I came away with cream for me, and spray for my clothes that reassuring will prevent me getting lyme madness it seems.

 

The doggos were taken to see our neighbour Bernard who is one of the village vets – for an informal consultation which confirmed this – and his advice was to go the vets and get insecticide shampoo. He was very nonchalant about it, explaining the mites are everywhere and its just part of living in woodland. It will get better when we have less rough ground and more surfaced areas – so the next step we think it to build a timber deck on which eventually a summer house will go which will give us some normality of living whilst we pursue this.

So, anyway the doggos each got a luxury spa treatment.

Collage of doggo spas
Luka tolerates his spa bath…Lillie on the other hand absolutely lapped it up!! Look at that face!!

Wednesday 15th August was the Fete Votive (Festival of Light), which is a bank holiday in France. In the afternoon there were some “Inter Village Games” at the Rugby Stade and we went down there to have a look. Inter village gamesIt was very amusing to see grown men and women doing the sack race. And then in the evening, as well as music and dancing down in the village there was also a firework display over the Plan D’Eau (the lake) at 11pm. We noticed that there were some barricades ready in place for the roads around the lake to be closed off for the fireworks and as the only way up to our track was along one of these roads we needed to decide on whether to stay down until it all finished or go up earlier. Being a pair of old farts, we had already gone up home by about 10pm and was having a cup of tea when the first fireworks went off. We couldn’t quite see the fireworks through the trees so walked down the track a bit to get a better view and were treated to an awesome display from the opposite side and a higher perspective that the rest of the audience.  It was only after it all finished that we contemplated that we were quite probably dangerously close to the fireworks and had the H&S been done in England the four houses up our track would probably have been evacuated as well as the road closures – C’est La Vie.

 

Here’s my video of the finale of the firework display https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkC-5fkd7v8&feature=share

 

Sians results
So proud of our clever girl!

Last Thursday was Sian’s A Level Results and when she phoned me to let me know she had achieved the best possible results in both subjects – A* in Psychology and Double Distinction Star in Health and Social Care – we both had a few tears and a few whoops of joy, and then realising I had not got a card ready to send to her I craftily tried to fob her off by sending her this video and telling her I had arranged for fireworks to celebrate!! She wasn’t falling for it – she’s a clever girl is Sian – she was top of her year in Psychology!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did have rather a big blow this last week when the knee pain I have had for a few weeks got suddenly much, much worse and last Friday when I bent down in our tiny little shower cubicle it popped and the pain was excruciating and I simply could not get up again without letting out some very blue expletives. A few days of hobbling around and I made my first visit to the French doctors. Luckily, she spoke a little English, and with our pre-prepared account of my symptoms on Martin’s tablet thanks to Mr Google, and a very thorough examination she made her diagnosis. As she pulled a face and made the sign of a cross over my knee I feared the worst!! Maybe my leg will have to come off I thought!! But fortunately, she was trying to explain that I have a sprained cruciate ligament in my right knee!! It’s not torn yet (thank goodness) and hopefully with a leg brace on for at least 3 weeks and the minimum of walking possible for at least 2 weeks followed by physio it should heal. I’m gutted to say the least. It’s not the best news where there is so much to do here on the land, but hopefully although for the time being I “mite be buggered” (see that play on words – I’m not illiterate as you may have first thought upon reading the blog title) – in the longer term I’m sure my ‘jambe bionique’ will sort me out.

Jambe bionique
Bang goes my chances of having a bikini body for the rest of the summer. What with the harvest mite bites on my torso and a white patch on my legs!!

 

 

 

What bastard chose this route?

Last week saw the event that we have all been training for in our daily early morning walks and twice weekly runs. The Trail du Pays du Chataignier!! This was the 6th event of its kind and is an annual trail running event. Participants can take part in a 12km or a 25km run, or a 12km walk. Initially Nikki, Carol and myself were to enter the walking event, with Martin entering the 12km run and Steve entering the 25km run. However, for various reasons none of us girls entered, leaving Martin and Steve to do it. Oh, and 175 other runners of course!!

The name of the trail translates to the Trail of the Chestnut Land, and it takes people through some beautiful Dordogne countryside – from Villefranche du Perigord, through Besse and Loubejac, and back to Villefranche du Perigord (VduP). During our Thursday and Sunday training runs we have all grown to know the hill that takes you back into the village. It is a horrible hill!! Far, far worse than my previous nemesis of a hill in Ramally Copse which took me years of trying before I could run up comfortably without stopping. It’s not the only hill on the route – far from it, but being at the end whatever run you have done makes it particularly horrible.

So, race day came. I was not taking part at all due to my knee hurting like crazy (see previous blog Bonjour, Buongiorno and Allo Allo), so I took my decent camera down to get some snaps and support the boys. Steve suggested that I go to the front of his house to take the photos of the runners coming down the dreaded hill, which I did. Unfortunately, Martin had told me that the grumpy old French man with the little dog who often trips me up when I hobble up “that hill” is Steve’s next-door neighbour. This is partly what caused what happened next. I saw Claude (the grumpy old French man) in his forecourt, so said a cheery Bonjour to him and ducked straight in the next forecourt without paying much attention to my whereabouts. The only place to tether the dogs was the front door handle, and I noticed the door came open a little bit. Dogs hooked up, I got my kit out and my position ready. Next thing is the dogs are moving around and knocking the door, then a lady opened the door, jumped out of her skin at the two dogs – who had started to jump up at her!! She said “is there a problem?”, and I said “is this Steve’s house”. No!! Oh dear!! I realised what I had done and began to explain. Luckily, she saw the funny side of my mistake, and her husband and daughter came out for a chat and I was offered tea, and water for the dogs. Steve’s house was actually the one next door to that….so I set up base there instead and got some good shots of the runners coming down the hill at the beginning of the event. IMG_0122

The first few back over the finish line were so quick I actually missed them whilst I was having a Café au Longueur outside the Boulangerie, so I drank up quickly and went to the finish line to catch the rest coming in. Martin finished in an impressive 74 minutes – position 99 overall.

On Thursday when we were having our post run coffee at the Café du Commerce the Maire came over to chat to us as he often does (he’s really friendly, and it’s not at all like the Mayor of Portsmouth or Southampton coming over to say hello) and he told Steve (in French) the funny story of what had happened during the race.

Maire and Norman
The guy on the left is our Maire – see he’s really very normal looking. The guy on the right is Norman – he is the butcher. Obviously I don’t really like the concept of butchers (being a veggie) but he is rather lovely!!

Claude (the Maire – not the grumpy old French man with the little dog – trust me there are LOTS of French men called Claude) was running along and a young lady was running at the same pace as him so they chatted. She said the route was beautiful but really hard and hilly, and said “what bastard chose this route?”. Claude said nothing, even though as Maire of VduP it was indeed his choice of route ha ha. Later on, after a bit more chat it was divulged that he was the Maire and then apparent to the young lady what a faux pas she had made!!

It was really hot on the day of the running, and continued to be until a huge thunder storm broke the run of hot weather on Wednesday night/Thursday morning. 2 weeks of blistering heat had begun to takes it’s toll though. It was hard to see at the time, but now that we are back to a much more moderate mid to late 20’s, I can reflect that the weather was really getting to us. We were arguing and bickering constantly!! About everything!! And I was honestly wondering if we were doing the right thing, whether France was right for us, whether we were right for France. But now, sense of humour firmly back in place and things are much more normal. However, I think it’s fair to say that it is indeed a challenge to be living in a 15 square metre motorhome which has no air conditioning, and is crammed full to bursting point. In 35-degree weather it’s like an oven, and watching the thermometer rise to 45 degrees inside makes you feel like you are being cooked alive, even though I bought some little USB charged fans back from the Lake Garda holiday, all they do is make it in to a fan assisted oven by blowing the hot air around!!  Night times were hot and sticky (in all the wrong ways), itchy and unbearable, and definitely not an environment conducive to constructive, sensible planning decision making conversations.

So…little was done. But, hey ho!! At least we didn’t decide to throw the towel in (as was certainly going through my head a lot) and also, thankfully I didn’t end up like poor Mrs Turtle who was killed by her husband after a dream move to France to set up a Chambres D’hote business went horribly wrong and he drove over her in his Mercedes after a row. Local neighbours say she wanted him to sell it to pay for a pool but he wouldn’t!! Take a look and see what you think? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-39886619

The heat makes people do crazy things! It is not all perfectly polished toe nails, hovering tantalisingly teasingly over a glistening pool in the #lovemynewlifeinFrance Facebook posts. There’s a lot of ducks living over here I reckon….gliding serenely over the pond, but beneath the water their little feet are paddling furiously as they try to keep their heads above water. There is no shame in admitting that this can be a hard life at times so I think it is a great shame that people sometimes do not open up to others and admit to this.

Martin and I have had lots of conversations since the inception of this Project and are still firm in our decision that we want to be building a modestly size house that will be sustainable and cost effective for our future. Now that the weather has cooled down and we are back into the swing of things we have been talking to different builders about different options. There is a set of regulations which all new builds currently have to be built to – RT2012. The finished project results in a house which costs minimal money to run – however, the new regulations that will come in to place in 2020 will yield houses that cost nothing to run!! The prospect of this is really exciting as we would have no energy bills – well yes gas if we used that to cook – but no electricity. So, we are currently exploring this.

Meanwhile we endeavour to keep our little camping spot as homely looking as possible. Now that I have the summer kitchen in an event tent, and the new bench that Martin bought I thought it would be nice to go out an buy a few cheap bits and pieces to make it look nice.

 

These things included 4 metre of wipe clean table cloth. Belle Cocotte

 

 

The design I chose appealed to me for two reasons. Firstly, it was only 2 euros a metre (which as it’s being used outside makes sense as it won’t last forever, and secondly because it has chickens on it!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wording Belle Cocotte meant, or so I thought Beautiful Chicken. But, after spending loads of time cutting it up and artistically draping it over every conceivable surface can you imagine how we, as VEGETARIANS, felt to discover that it actually means “Beautiful Casserole). Poor Chicken!! Google Translate Belle Cocotte

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Bonjour, Buongiorno and Allo Allo

Temperature chart I’m sitting outside writing this in 35° heat and it is nearly 9pm!! It’s been too hot to write, too hot to type, too hot to do anything really. But, as it is a few weeks since I last blogged I thought I should get up to date.

 

 

 

I’ve been away on a little break to Italy with my daughter Sian to celebrate the end of her A Levels and spend a bit of quality mother and daughter time before she heads off to Uni in September. We went to Lake Garda where I was spoilt with the luxury of air conditioning, a shower that spouted forth a continuous supply of water for as long as desired, and a swimming pool! All of this was very much appreciated after a few months of living in the motorhome. As were the spectacular views of Lake Garda every time we went out – such a stunning place to visit.

As always “Gaffe Femme” managed to sustain a few holiday injuries as seems to be inevitable. This time it was (in no particular order)

  • a burst blood vessel in my left eye which rendered me looking like a vampire for the first 3 days. This was very unfortunate when meeting our fellow hotel guests as they probably thought I was straight out of the Twilight series – or a very heavy drinker!!
  • a bruised left foot which made walking and jogging painful, and sadly climbing up Monte Baldo totally unachievable
  • gastric issues of an unidentified nature. My hunch is that it was the red wine vinegar I put on my salad the first night but whatever it was it lasted for 5 out of the 7 days of the holiday and took two lots of over the counter medication to get sorted out, but luckily no need to see an Italian doctor
  • sore right knee – not sure what happened here but I think it has just come out in sympathy for my left foot

So, let’s just say that I had more than my fair share of unwanted attention whilst hobbling around the hotel with my blood shot eye, grimacing face (from the stomach issues) and limping (from the bruised foot and sore knee).

As well as the injuries sustained we also had a number of “near death” experiences which were fondly referred to by everyone at our dinner table (we were seated with two other pairs as a table of 6) as ND’s. Every evening the other 4 people would enquire if we had had any more ND’s and laugh about our antics. The most significant of the NDs was probably when I nearly drowned off the back of a pedalo!! Sharon drowning

At the time it was really, really scary, but we were soon laughing about it!! The most serious ND involved a trip to a public toilet in pitch black….but that really is another story for another time.

 

 

 

Sian was keen to practice her Italian, especially having just had a week in Sorrento already, and a further trip to Venice planned. I imagine by the end of the summer she will live up to the song by Bananarama Robert De Niro’s Waiting

Unlike me of course…. who after a few months of desperately trying to learn a few words of French got completely confused by having to say Buongiorno instead of Bonjour and Si instead of Oui. In shops I was saying Merci Beaucoup instead of Grazia much to the bemusement of people.

Never mind…. now I am back I can concentrate on acting out the lead character in ‘Allo ‘Allo once again!! Already I have been mocked by the old French man at the market for not understanding him talking to me in English.

So, now I am back to no air con and sleepless nights, and the closest thing to a swimming pool is the little paddling pool area I created this week. Paddling pool.jpgBut it does the job – keeps me cool. We felt bad having our own little pool whilst the doggos were so hot though – so we got them one each as well!! Luka took to it like a duck to water (so to speak) but Lillie was a bit more difficult to persuade to keep still. Luka paddling pool

Lillie paddling pool

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, there was a rather lovely surprise awaiting me when I got back. Martin had done loads of work, levelling off part of the land enough to park the motorhome actually on the plot instead of on the track next to it. And, he had added a few special touches to it – an event shelter to give us a summer kitchen and a new bench. Marsha in new locationWhen you have been living on a track for 6 weeks believe me, it is very special to then actually be properly situated on the land that we now actually own!! Yippee!!

Oh, that and a special welcome home dinner!! Heart in melon Martin was in my very good books for at least a day or so for all of that

 

 

 

 

 

 

– but it was soon back to beating him into working hard on the land and this week and seen a lot of hard graft. Some small trees being chain sawed, a composting system made out of old pallets, and the start of a rear walk way at the back boundary being made so that the young children from next door and the lovely, but increasingly aging Alice, will still be able to have a snicket (i) short cut through to the village without encroaching on our privacy.

Our surroundings are constantly changing and evolving and the landscape is not staying the same for a moment. It’s hard to believe that it is just a year since we called by here for “old times sake” to see what had become of Dad and Ann’s forgotten land and now, here is something completely transformed from what it was then, even when they were working on the land it was not then as clear as it is now. Martin cutting down acacia

And it’s not just our land that changes the landscape and outlook. The meadow opposite belonging to Madame C (the Portuguese lady) has now been strimmed by her son on his annual month-long visit from Mauritius – and we woke one morning to the sight and sound of a field of sheep. We honestly don’t need any animals of our own to make it feel like we are living on a small holding (but don’t tell that to Luka and Lillie – they might feel under threat of eviction). Sheep in meadow

(i) Snicket – cut through/alley way as used by people from Ooop North

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Oi you! Get orf my land!

It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind since we’ve been back on French soil. Our trip down went well, with me following Martin in the new pick up truck. My first time ever at doing the long drive, and apart from a few tense moments involving large trucks and a miscommunication between us as to how long a chain of vehicles I was prepared to risk my life for in overtaking, it was OK – better than I had anticipated really.

The 3 Amigos

Once back in Villefranche-du-Perigord our first priority was to report for housesitting duties for Sue and Paul in Fraysinnet – we were looking after their super cute little wire-haired dachshund called Prune overnight whilst they went off and had some fun. This meant we had the use of their house – including jet propelled shower and a swimming pool – which was brilliant. The weather was not as hot as it had been for the few days beforehand – but still warm enough for me to make very good use of the pool – although Martin couldn’t be tempted in.

 

Then we spend the weekend busy strimming back some of the brambles and weeds that seem to grow back as soon as we look away for just a few minutes. We remember very well Dad and Ann saying that their frequent trips back to the UK resulted in a perpetual battle of the brambles. We are determined to get a sensible balance between visiting those we love and actually really starting to forge out a life for ourselves here and not let the grass grow under our feet too much.

Monday was a momentous day indeed!! We had our appointment with the Notaire to complete the transfer of land ownership. Because of the lateness in us being send bank details to make the payment we had half expected that the appointment would be delayed – but to our absolute joy we turned up, and one hour and lots of paper signing later – I walked out of his office the proud owner of three small plots of very special, and magical land in rural South West France!! Transfer of ownership documentIt felt surreal to think that just a few years ago Dad and Ann would have been sitting in that same office doing the same thing – excited with their own plans – obviously not knowing that their dreams would be shattered just a few years later. Part of the reason for us doing what we are doing is to honour their dreams, but of course we have our own dreams to fulfil too. To celebrate we went to Charlotte’ s for a Café Gourmand – something we have been promising ourselves as a treat ever since coming here but never quite finding a good enough reason to have 4 pieces of cake all at once before.Cafe Gourmand

Much to Martin’s disgust my new catch phrase of “oi you! Get off my land!” still hasn’t lost its novelty value.

The first thing we done after this very important RDV (that’s the French abbreviation for rendezvous) was to drive to Belves to the Sogedo office. Sogedo is the local supplier of water. Water, as we have found is such an important commodity. When we drove down in February we had been alarmed to find that the water taps had been turned off at ALL of the Aires on our route to Villefranche-du-Perigord. 100 litres of water was all we had on board and we had watched the level gauge go down and down, realising that our plans to “wild camp” in the Aires was to be scuppered if we could not find one with the water turned on and we would have to find a campsite that was open (also a rare commodity in February). However….we were delighted to find that Villefranche has an Aire that stays open all year round!.

So, the concept of water supply is to us, something that we are acutely aware of it’s importance. Now we have been camping up on the land it’s been lovely in the sense that we can spread out a bit, but a complete pain in the butt to have to drive down to the Aire every couple of days to fill up with water. 100 litres soon goes!!

So, that’s why we were so keen to go to Sogedo. It was a hot, hot day and we had the doggos in the back of the pick up truck, so when we arrived my priority was them of course. We ventured into the office – “parlez vous Anglais” “Non, but my colleague does” – colleague came to front desk. “Merci beaucoup” I said – “but first of all, it is very very hot out there and our dogs are in the car – is it possible that they could come in here”. “Yes of course!”. So, just a few minutes later Luka and Lillie are laying on a lovely cool tile floor, having a snooze whilst we concentrated on the important business of getting a water supply. The trouble was that Sogedo were certain there was already a water meter, and we were certain that there was not. Our previous searches had previously only revealed the isolation tap, never a water meter. Anyway, Corrina the lovely dog friendly French lady said that they would send someone out to sort it out. “How long?” we asked – expecting “un mois…maybe deux mois” as has been the case with EVERYTHING else. You could have knocked us over with a feather when she said “tomorrow”. So, off we went back “home” – really pleased that soon we would have water sorted out.

Next morning, I was at the land alone when a Sogedo van arrived. A bit of an exchange in “a little English, a little French” and the man soon had the water supply turned on at the isolation tap. But now the important issue of the water meter. I explained the best I could that we did not know where it was, he asked where the house was. I said “we have no house yet, we are going to be building one”. “no, the little house”. “Ah, the ruin?” and pointed down the slope in to the woodland. He started to climb down through the thick undergrowth and I said “no, no you will be torn apart with thorns” and showed him the track we have cut through. I went to get decent boots on, and by the time I got down there the man was kicking off get big chunks of dead tree from the concrete lid to a water meter box!! “Voila!” Inside was revealed a very old tap (“be very careful” he said “it is very fragile”) and a 2-foot piece of fairly new hose pipe. l'eau de la vie.jpgOur mystery was solved – this was the water meter that Dad and Ann had installed about 6 years previously – with just 3 cubic meters used on the meter. This makes perfect sense as they would have, like us, needed a utility bill to get other important things like car registration etc. sorted out.

“How did you know it was here” I asked the man – and he said that it was him who closed the meter 3 years previously (it was actually 5 years but in such a poignant moment I did not want to correct him”.

Running water

 

So….we now have “l’eau de vie” – on tap! Hurry! It has already made such a difference to not have to worry so much about filling up. We still need to do the toilet (back of pick up truck down to the Aire to go into the chemical toilet disposal point) and the grey water (large buckets then thrown in the woodland). But, it’s a good feeling!!

 

 

 

 

After the excitement of the water I decided to start getting a feel for what the areas of the land will be so that we can begin to landscape it to suit our needs. When I say “landscape” I don’t mean landscape as in your traditional sense by any stretch of the imagination. Just more like organising it into zones. So, I know have a hammock gently rocking in the trees which is roughly in the place where our bedroom will be.Happy in my hammock.jpg

And I have the very beginnings of a Zen garden on one of the dropped terraces – which in time will become a Meditation and Yoga area – maybe with some natural arches providing a beautiful backdrop to my daily practice (which has dropped off of late much to my disappointment). We have lots of ideas and vision for this land. Some of the plans change when we realise that a spot is either too sunny, or not sunny enough for our intended use, but that’s very much the beauty of living in the motorhome up there as we can see how it is 24/7, and as the seasons change.Zen Garden.jpg

The soil is great over here

 

Our neighbour Violene kindly gave me two baby tomato plants when I told her I was starting to create a garden. For a joke I showed her this photo the next day and told her that the soil must be great in these parts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lots of birthday cards

 

This week also marks Martin’s 59th Birthday and our 9th Wedding Anniversary. He had a full letter box of cards waiting for him on his birthday – but actually only one of them really did come through the mail – I played a prank on him by placing all the cards that people in the UK had given me to bring back.

 

 

 

 

 

9 years anniversaryWhen we got married 9 years ago we never dreamt we would be living full time in a motorhome on a track next to a bit of woodland – that’s certainly not what he promised me!! But then again, I’m sure he’d say “I beg your pardon – I never promised you a rose garden”. And it’s true – along with the sunshine there’s gotta be a little rain some time. And as I sit here writing this I’m hoping that we get a bit of rain this evening and it’s absolutely stinking hot – too hot really!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, the final event worth noting for this week is of course the World Cup. I don’t usually follow the footy but of course when it’s something as important as the World Cup I’ll make an exception. We watched the France v Belgium game on Tuesday and were excited to see them win. On Wednesday we were discussing the potential dilemma that the England v Croatia game posed. If England were to win they would then be playing France. So…who to cheer for!! Country of origin or country of residence? Or both? Anyway, it didn’t pan out that way for England which was a huge shame and would have made this evening’s match very interesting. Then again…as I am writing this I am listening the television at the campsite bar (we came down to watch the match) and France has just won 4:2 – and that’s a really exciting thing!! Aren’t we lucky – to be living in a country that we love and it’s the World Cup holder!!hashtag dilemma

 

Inlaws, Outlaws and Aliens

Wow, it’s been over a month since my last blog entry. This was a deliberate move on my part as, after careful consideration I decided that I would not do a weekly blog during our trip back to the UK as it was not all directly related to #projectFrance. However, I feel that a summary of our month long trip would be a good idea.

So, we embarked on our 1000km trip back to the UK on 1st June. The primary reason for the trip back was to provide moral support if necessary for our youngest who has been sitting exams. But also, we had a few hospital appointments, and some dental appointments, and as we left the UK amidst a bit of a drama back at the beginning of May we thought it would be lovely to spend some time catching up with family to update them on how our house building/land acquiring plans were going.

First stop was Broadstairs to visit James, Nicola, Henry and Chloe, and we had a lovely visit to the seafront with themChloe, Henry and Luka at the seaside……..and a much looked forward to Indian Takeaway, and an even more looked forward and very much needed bath for me!! It’s not that I hadn’t been showering at all – far from it – it’s just that with only 3 minutes of warm water, showers “a la camping-car” are short and sweet and merely functional. Not like the lovely, relaxing bath with my soothing bath products that I took in their bathroom. Only the promise of the Indian takeaway being ordered was enough to get me out of there. Indian food is something I do miss when in France as there is no such thing as an Indian Restaurant or Takeaway – at least not in rural SW France as are we – maybe in the cities – we haven’t found out yet

We also managed to squeeze a quick catch up with friends Matt and Hannah – who were great friends of Dad and Ann – and it is always lovely to speak to people who know the land well (as they do) and completely “get” what we are trying to achieve.

Then it was off to Chandlers Ford where we used to live. Lots of family to visit here, including my mum, daughter, Martin’s son’s and of course our lovely “daughter-outlaw” Lisa. That’s an ex in-law to you and I. Sadly, a marriage break-up means that she now gets the coveted title of “outlaw” – of which we have a few!! We get on really well with all our “out-laws” – maybe they know something we don’t ha ha!! Enough said about that maybe??? Lisa is also mum to our super cute nearly 4 year old Grandson Max – who we took to the New Forest for some great adventures. New Forest with Max collage

We found a campsite in Ampfield to set up base, negotiated a bit of a discount for a long stay (always on a look out for a bargain and after living rent free for a month in France it was a shock to the system to find campsites cost nearly as much as a mortgage). We were blessed with superb weather for the whole of our trip, and it was really lovely to be able to set up a comfortable base in which we could spread out a bit. Shiloh Luka and Lillie

 

 

The doggos were delighted to also meet up with one of their favourite doggo friends – Shiloh and the three of them enjoyed a “tail wag” whilst the humans enjoyed a “chin wag”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst in Ampfield we re-connected with old neighbours of ours, who used to live a few doors up the road from us until they saw the light and moved away to a place that is more aligned with the life they want to lead – much like us. They now live in a charming house, with lots of land, on which they can enjoy a life of partly self-sufficiency, and look after some gorgeous rescue ponies – Alwyn and Fergus. Martin quite literally bumped into John whilst out walking the dogs, and they recognised each other. This led to an invitation to dinner and then a return visit to us at the campsite. It was so lovely to spend time with like minded people, and even more so because they are all (including their lovely daughters) vegan – so this led to lots of interesting conversations and sharing of recipes – in particular a kale and chickpea and spelt salad which introduced me to spelt and got me back into kale in a huge way. We were given a guided tour of their raised beds and now Martin has purchased a book to help us on our way back in France. We both felt very envious of their beautiful sunset over the stunning Ampfield woods but of course soon we will have our own stunning sunsets over the woods our of our own kitchen windows. Sunset over Ampfield Woods

Hulk

 

One of the first things to sort out was to find a Mitsubushi L200 – the vehicle we had decided would tick all the boxes for our needs for a vehicle in France. We were lucky to find HULK very quickly into our trip (named due to his number plate) and in order for me to gain confidence we decided that it would make sense for me to follow Martin and Marsha (the motorhome) around when we set off on our inlaws and outlaw visits for a week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gin and Tonic.jpg

 

 

 

 

We also caught up with other good friends, and shared a few meals – most notably the cheesiest pizza I have even had – dare I say it TOO cheesy!! Also, a lovely family meal with Ryan popping over from Bournemouth. And did I mention a fair few Gin and Tonics – another thing that I do miss from England and fully intend to take at least 3 bottles back with me each time for the Gin Bar which I will most definitely be having in our new house. Gin and Tonic at Bayleaves

After said daughter had completed exams and celebrated with family Family mealand this anxious mummy was assured that she was happy with how they have gone and was about to embark on a week long bender that would not require parental supervision – we ventured up towards the East of the Country to spend some time with another “outlaw” – this time ex sister in law Sarah, and her partner Gary.

 

 

Ev's GravestoneSarah is the much loved mum of Evan who sadly had a fight with cancer and didn’t win – very tragically lost at the age of 13. Evan’s loss has had a profound effect on all of us. Yes, it was awful to lose my Dad and Step Mum to cancer, but I have no words to describe how I feel about a 13 year old boy having to fight this awful disease. However, time spent with Sarah always is (and always has been) extremely upbeat and fun, she’s funny, brave, kind and clever – and we love her for that.

3 days went quickly and we were soon on our way to my brother Stephen who lives in Colchester. We pitched up at a campsite and picked him up to bring  his over for a homecooked curry, a few beers, and for him to do his part of the paper-work for the transfer of ownership. The said paperwork consisted of no fewer than 52 pages – all of which were in French, and had been sent over VERY late on Saturday evening – the French certainly do like living on a knife edge!! Google translateThanks to Google Translate and a huge amount of patience we were able to satisfy ourselves that we are not selling our souls, but agreeing with the succession plans according to French law, and I am buying James and Stephen out of their shares so that me and Martin can build on the land. My comedian of a brother (Stephen) had cracked a few jokes about wanting to keep his share and rent it out to me – but as he was talking in Francs and not Euros I figured he had no idea what he was talking about

 

 

Then on to North London to visit the notorious Mother In Law!! She’s actually not bad for a MIL – although I always do find that my dear husband resorts back to child like behaviour when he visits and wants to raid the biscuit cupboard and other boy like stuff!! We were able to do a ridiculous amount of washing at her house, and also give the motorhome a much needed and very thorough wash. Although there was plenty of room to park Marsha the Motorhome on her driveway Camping a la Muriel

we stayed inside the house which was a novelty for us – but I found it a bit disconcerting the first night, to have all that space in a bedroom. But another long soak in the bath was much appreciated and caused me to sleep like a baby the second night. We also saw one of my brother in laws, David, whilst there and it was lovely to update him with our plans for our little house. Whilst talking to them both we realised that we will probably be able to fit our teeny little house twice, maybe three times over in MILs house and I wondered if they think we are a bit bonkers. After all, many of the roads in Stanmore are 2 miles long with only 100 or so houses in them. Now we have spent so much time full time in the motorhome it all seems a bit alien to us to have multiple bathrooms, and enough space in a house to watch TV in one room whilst someone else is in another room.

 

That was the last stop on our epic round the UK in a week trip, and then it was back down to Ampfield for a few days to see everyone down there again before heading back. Owen and Hannah

We enjoyed seeing everyone a great deal, but the time spent back in the UK did confirm to us a few things. One being that the roads are so much nicer in France – so quiet in comparison. And also, that we most definitely no longer want the life of a hamster on a wheel- continually running around, getting no-where, trying to earn enough to pay for a life we don’t really want. For that realisation that has come at a time which means we are young enough to really fully reap the benefits of the new life we have chosen, we are very grateful. Our little home on wheels has taught us a lot – most importantly that if it doesn’t fit in a 17 sq metre motorhome we probably don’t need it. We are still adjusting to that life, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a hardship, although we do realise that to some people our lives must appear to be very alien. But, it’s the same for us – we now find the traditional model of domesticity to be quite alien to ourselves – and so, when people’s faces have shown a look of sympathy for the hard life we must be leading without our TV and vast amounts of space we share a wry smile and whisper “if only they knew”.It's not how big the house is

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.